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Friday, September 14, 2007

Jam Sessions Review (Nintendo DS)

I'm an amateur musician on my good days, but my music has always been synth and electronics-based. Despite all my attempts, I have never really been able to play guitar. I can play a chord here and there or figure out a riff or two, but putting everything together and making an actual song has always been a challenge I've been unable to overcome. I picked up Jam Sessions with the intention of adding a guitar sound to my music that sounds somewhat authentic.

Anyone expecting a Guitar Hero-like experience on their DS should turn away. Jam Sessions features no cover songs or master recordings that you play along with like you would in Guitar Hero. Instead, Jam Sessions aims to teach you how to actually play the guitar (albeit on your DS) to your favorite songs, while giving you all the tools you need to create your own.

The game controls rather simply. You strum up and down by moving the stylus in the same way. Chord changes are performed by pressing the D-pad in different directions. For a single song, you can program up to 16 different chords, so you're not really limited there. The game is also rich with extras like effects (distortion, delay, low cut, high cut, etc.) and palm muting. Plato have gone to great lengths not to limit your options when creating songs, and it does not go unappreciated.

Included in the game are 17 songs (with 3 bonus songs if you enter up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right in Free Play Mode). Essentially it's a chord chart that tells you when to strum up, down, or palm mute. There are midi demos of the song included, so if you get stuck on a certain part you can actually hear how it's supposed to sound.

Of course, the real meat and potatoes of Jam Sessions is the Free Play mode, in which you are able to write and record your own songs. Granted, you won't be able to record the whole thing unless it's 30 seconds long, but if you came up with a really cool riff that you need to remember, the feature is a blessing! All you have to do is select a few chords from a selection of hundreds and start playing. Microphone support is also added, but don't expect it to sound like anything more than the DS' built-in mic.

Another thing not to expect is miracles. I could never play an instrument and sing at the same time, my brain just doesn't work that way, and it's no different with Jam Sessions. But the fact that I can play an entire song on guitar without messing up is a feat in and of itself! The default acoustic guitar sound that the game presents doesn't sound entirely real, but still more realistic than any other guitar simulator I've ever heard. If you have the time and equipment, I'd recommend buying an adapter to hook your DS into a guitar amp or external effects processor. I've already done so, and I'm impressed with the quality and variety of sounds that can be produced!

In the end, Jam Sessions is a pretty terrible game. There's really no gaming to be found here at all. What it is though, is an incredibly handy tool for musicians and aspiring musicians to have at their disposal. The developers have put a lot of work and thought into Jam Sessions, and I am grateful for that. I can't even begin to list the times that I've had inspiration for a song pop into my head, only to have it evaporate before I could write it out. Jam Sessions gives me everything I need to make sure that never happens again.

8 out of 10 Stars

1 comment:

Se7en2 said...

Nice review. Just wanted to point out that not all the songs have a midi. Other than that, I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. Nice work.